August 2, 2012

A teacher’s posture

Today’s devotional is from a passage that describes Jesus instructing His disciples and then telling them to try again. They had been fishing and caught nothing, but this time they nearly sunk the boat with their catch.
Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:3–7)
As a teacher, I notice something that nearly gets lost in the drama of this narrative. Jesus asked that the boat be moved away from the shore, then sat down to teach.

Historians say that the rabbis stood respectfully during the reading of the Scriptures, and sat humbly to teach. From other passages, it seems that this was customary for Jesus also. 

This is not the custom of today. Teachers stand. At least most of them.
The posture of standing can imply superiority and control. Those who stand before us, particularly those elevated on a platform of some sort, seem larger, more authoritative. It gives both teacher and audience a sense of separation and of who is in charge.

Teaching from a sitting position happens in settings where the teacher wants to be part of the group, even part of the learning process. The students are not threatened or intimidated by a teacher who lowers himself to their level, as it were. They are more willing to enter into discussion and even more willing to listen to whatever the others have to say because the teacher is setting this example.

It may have been a custom for the rabbis, but Jesus was wise in choosing to sit. Had He stood, perhaps His voice would have carried better and He would have been more visible. Yet by sitting, the people in the crowd wanted to hear Him, so they had to stop talking among themselves and listen. To hear Him, they had to pay closer attention.

Whatever reasons Jesus had for sitting, this signals to me that He wanted them to know that He did not elevate Himself above them, even though He had every reason to do that. Instead, His posture illustrated His ministry and His attitude.
…. Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
Sitting while I teach takes on new meaning. It says to my class that I am not above any of them, but am here as a learner too, to serve and care for them. Sitting should also be an attitude. Like Jesus, I am to empty myself so that those in the class are pointed to the One who emptied Himself for them. 

You, Lord Jesus, are the Master Teacher. Even though there are benefits and reasons to sit when I teach, because You did it is reason enough for me to do the same. May I have the same attitude of heart also, so that every time I sit to teach, others are reminded of You and that You became One of us that we might experience the grace of God and eternal life.

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